Design for me – not you!

Design for me – not you!

Originally posted on the Bluefin Solutions website here.

How many times have we all been on a project where come release time, there is a battle with users to get them to understand why things have been done a particular way or worse that lovely nugget of “this is great, but where is X”?

Recently I’ve been working on a number of projects that involved quite a bit of design up front before the solutions were built. I am a big advocate of design thinking or in short putting the user at the centre of the design. For me that means, talking to users, showing them concepts and letting them drive my design rather than coming up with what I think the best solution would be.

Taking yourself out of the design process and playing the role of facilitator rather than driver is fascinating and very important for the success of any project. It is something that you have to be very aware of from the outset, to make sure you don’t taint the design process with how you think a solution should be and also give your users permission to go nuts and tell you about what their perfect world looks like.

So how do we do this?

1. Engage

The key to a well-designed solution is key-user or champion engagement. This is not just periodic status updates to a group of stakeholders. This is getting them to put some skin in the game and come on board to help create the vision of THEIR solution. The key word for me here is “THEIR”. They must feel some ownership and emotional relationship to the solution in order for the project to succeed.

This means that when you have listened to the users, you keep going back showing them how you understood them, refine your design and go again. Not only does this keep them informed of what you are doing, it also shows them they are being listened to and so automatically your change management is made easier!

2. Touch and feel

This could be classed as an agile concept but I think this applies to any methodology. It’s all well and good to see a design on paper, and done correctly that can be very effective but the king pin on every single project based around users that I have seen is the conversations that happen during a desk drive-by in which you say “oh by the way, want to see what we have so far?”. Bringing your users on this journey of creation again re-enforces their design but also strengthens their emotional relationship to the solution they helped create. Suddenly you find them talking about – “Wow I saw what it’s going to look like today and it’s really looking great”. Isn’t that the best advocacy for change in any organisation?

3. Complete the journey

The final stage of a project is always about putting it live or getting the solution out there. In this case I would say, start with a pilot group of your key users, get a final sign-off from them that you have indeed created their vision. Give them the chance to add some final refinement to the design (within reason) almost as a QA before their vision becomes reality. And finally, don’t release it yourself, help them to do it. It’s not your solution and its not your vision so don’t try to pretend it is. Allow your key users to do the communications, the advocacy and the release. At the end of the day, a colleague who is advocating an amazing new solution is going to carry a lot more weight than a project team saying “look what we built”.

So as you approach your next project where there is a design element (and there always is) remember:

  • Get your key-users or champions identified early
  • Bring them on board at the start to help shape your project
  • Keep them involved as you start bolting everything together
  • Finally, get them to be your advertising for your release

Solutions designed by users for users with some design thinking facilitation will end up creating amazing, well adopted and to-the-point solutions for your business.

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